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After the Storm (All I've Ever Needed)

By:Jewel Moore

Natalie Harding stood up, raised her arms over her head and gave a long, leisurely stretch to ease the aching muscles she’d held in the same position for the last three hours.

God, that feels so good!

A choking sound made her whip her head round and glance in surprise at her colleague Stephano Romano.

He was sitting at his desk across the room from her, looking startled and…aroused?

Shocked, she was paralyzed mid stretch as their eyes caught and held.

They were alone in the office. She’d stayed to finalize a report for their newest client, a gourmet baby food company who had turned to her employer, an elite market research agency, in desperation after its profits had fallen month after month in the last year. The agency worked with some of the largest firms in the UK as well as many prominent overseas firms. They dealt exclusively with companies with annual turnovers in excess of a million pounds and produced results time and time again.

Paul McCain, the company director kept the team to a maximum of ten members. Natalie had been incredibly lucky to be invited for an interview and even more so to be considered good enough to replace a valuable member of the team who was opting for early retirement. It had been sheer good fortune when the company director Paul, a close personal friend of Natalie’s project supervisor at university, had mentioned that he was losing one of his best employees. The lecturer had immediately recommended Natalie as a replacement.

Natalie hadn’t heard of the company before being asked to attend the interview, but she had researched it thoroughly. She’d been apprehensive as she’d approached the company’s plush offices in Knightsbridge, but Paul soon put her at ease. He’d been blunt, telling her that ordinarily he wouldn’t consider hiring anyone with no previous experience but he’d been friends with the lecturer since they had themselves attended university and he trusted the other man’s judgment.

Paul had called her “striking” and she’d flinched inwardly, thinking that it was a polite way of saying that she wasn’t attractive, but later when she got to know him better, she’d understood that he had paid her one of his highest compliments. He believed it having a ‘presence’ and had told her to never underestimate the ability to command attention.

Her love of reading stood her in good stead as the job required a lot of research. She liked the intimacy of the team and the fact that they kept abreast of one another’s campaigns. If a team member fell ill or was unexpectedly absent, another team member could step in and deliver a planned presentation or continue work on an important project, if necessary.

They had busy work schedules, but it was a Friday night, so she’d been mildly surprised that Stephano had stayed late as well. All of their colleagues had left the office long before six, making straight for the nearby pub for a drink or several before heading off to whatever entertainments they had planned with wives, partners or friends.

Natalie didn’t have a date—hadn’t had one in almost five years—so she’d decided to finish the report while the exhaustive research she’d done all week was still fresh in her head.

If Stephano didn’t have a date it would surely be because he didn’t want one. He was gorgeous: 6’3” with wavy black hair, intense blue eyes, shoulders the width of a door and a body he kept in perfect condition by going to the gym regularly.

Suddenly it dawned on her that both her full breasts and ample behind were poking out suggestively while she held herself in the stretch position. Flustered, she dropped her arms. Her left wrist hit the edge of her desk with a loud thud.

“Ouch,” she yelped in pain, sitting down abruptly and cradling it protectively in her other hand.

“Cara?” Stephano was at her side in an instant, crouching beside her and taking her wrist gently in his large hands. He turned it over carefully to see if it was any serious injury.

Did he just call her ‘darling’? She didn’t understand Italian except for the few words she read in the romance novels she devoured by the dozen each month, but she was sure that the word was an endearment.

Whatever pain she’d been feeling vanished at the touch of his hands as they gently massaged her wrist. The feeling was quickly replaced by arousal, desire so strong she wanted to snatch her wrist away before he sensed it.

“I’m fi-fine now.” What was wrong with her voice? That husky, sultry sound couldn’t have come from her. No, that had to have been someone else!

“Are you sure, cara?”

Okay, he’d said it again. The first time she understood—shock made people act out of character—but the surprise was now over. He had examined her wrist and knew that she hadn’t done herself any lasting damage, so why was he still crouched there, his muscular thighs stretching the material of his blue jeans?